Friday, July 04, 2014

Now in the mind of [          ] reason has no place at all, as either leader or follower, as either sovereign or slave. He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of his opponents. It has never occurred to him, that a man ought to be able to give some better account of the way in which he has arrived at his opinions than merely that it is his will and pleasure to hold them. It has never occurred to him that there is a difference between assertion and demonstration, that  a rumour does not prove a fact, that a single fact, when proved, is hardly foundation enough for a theory, that two contradictory propositions cannot be undeniable truths, that to beg the question is not the way to settle it, or that when an objection is raised, it ought to be met with something more convincing than ‘scoundrel’ and ‘blockhead’.

This is from a review by Macaulay of a book by a Mr. Southey, written in 1830, but what it describes is one of the characteristic vices of our age.  At the present time we have Mr. Southeys among us in myriads of myriads, drowning out all other voices on almost any topic of importance. So this extract could well serve for an introduction to a discussion about just about anything I have blogged about. However, it seems particularly apropos to the topic that is currently clogging my Twitter feed with bile, the detention of asylum seekers.

There is near universal agreement among the people who are retweeted by people I know that the governments who have introduced and maintained this policy, from Keating’s onward, are guilty of gross inhumanity for no good reason; that the bipartisan adoption of this policy is an abomination rightly abhorred by all people with the faintest shred of conscience; and that Scott Morrison is a fiend in human form who takes delight in the pain of innocents. If these things were true, they would of course be abominable. It would also be an unheard-of case of collusion in utter bastardry for no reason between the two main factions in Australian politics. (Collusion in utter bastardry out of self-interest is another matter; I humbly tips me lid to the great John Madigan for opting out of the pay rise they recently voted themselves).  So our current bipartisan policy must be there for some good reason. It is no good just calling Morrison, Abbot, Rudd, Ruddock, etc. ‘scoundrel’ and ‘blockhead’ and pointing to the bad effects of the policy of detaining asylum seekers, without considering what the good effects of this policy are, and what we might possibly do differently to preserve these good effects without the bad effects; or alternatively, whether we might be prepared to forego these good effects in order to get rid of the bad effects. We need to propose some positive alternative course of action and give a proper argument for it.

The two good effects of the present bipartisan policy, as I see it, are these:

1.       Fewer people drowning trying to get here. 

2.       The minimisation of personal income as a factor in the likelihood of getting one of the (shamefully small) number of refugee visas available.

People drowning is the main problem, in my opinion, and I am convinced it was also the thing that haunted the dreams of Phillip Ruddock and justified the policy in his mind.  There is a way to achieve these two effects in another way, and a sufficiently audacious first-term Prime Minister might pull it off: I will tell you what it is, and you can tell me – honestly – whether you would suffer the disadvantages of it, rather than the disadvantages of the current policy.

Let me get there by taking the genuine, well-intentioned, humane course of opinion voiced by many and follow it to its logical conclusion.

Simplicio: Most of these people from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka are found to be genuine refugees in the end, anyway. Surely there is no harm in keeping them in the community until their proposals are assessed, and then letting them stay to build productive lives here.

Salviati: That is true, but very many people want to come here. When such a policy is followed- or when a weakening of the policy in such a direction is made- the number of people seeking asylum increases. Unfortunately, many of them drown trying to get here.

Simplicio: Then we should fly them here.

Salviati: By making the crossing easier, we will increase the number of people seeking asylum. How do you propose we should limit their number?

Simplicio: I don’t know.  I am incapable of quantitative thought, like so many of my kind.

Salviati: Let me ask you another question: are you an admirer of the American systems of health care and education, where decent services are only available to those who can pay?

Simplicio: I would have to say ‘no’.

Salviati: But what you are proposing amounts to the same thing; any refugee who can travel from their home country to Java we will fly to Australia and give a new life; but these are not just the ones with more enterprise and vigour, the ones we might wish to select as new citizens given a free choice, but the ones that have more money. For it takes a great deal of money to travel from a refugee camp outside of Peshawar, for instance, to Java.

Simplicio: I didn’t say Java. We can fly them from wherever. 

Salviati: Then the problem is multiplied a hundredfold. We have made the barrier yet lower. How do you suppose we limit their number?

Simplicio: We could make some kind of a lottery, I guess.

Salviati: Exactly! And how good of a chance would you expect in a lottery, to sit back and await the results instead of trying your luck on a small boat to Australia? What percentage of applicants would have to be successful in a year for you to wait hopefully in a squalid refugee camp?

Simplicio: I don’t know.  I am...

Salviati: Incapable of quantitative thought, yes. How about 1:100?

Simplicio: That doesn’t sound very good.

Salviati: 1:10?

Simplicio: That sounds better. I guess I could live in squalor for ten years, on average.

Salviati: There are more than 10 million refugees whose status recognised by the United Nations around the world, and many more that are unrecognised who would apply to such a lottery. While I will require funding from the Australian Research Council to do a proper study, I have pulled some numbers out of my arse and would suggest that such a lottery would not have any success in reducing unauthorised arrivals unless we were to lift our refugee intake to 250,000 a year.

Simplicio: I wish I could do that thing with the numbers.

We do not believe that Mr. Southey would recommend such a course, through his language would, according to all the rules of logic, justify us in supposing this to be his meaning. He never sees, at one glance, more of a question than will furnish matter for one flowing and well-turned sentence; so that it would be the height of unfairness to charge him personally with holding a doctrine merely because that doctrine is deducible, though by the closest and most accurate reasoning, from the premises which he had laid down.

I have, in 2001, written to Kim Beazley asking him to lift our refugee intake to 250,000 a year if he won the election. At about the same time I am on record as saying that I would like to see another 2 million Iraqis in Western Sydney. We could certainly do this: much poorer countries have taken much larger proportional numbers of people. I am willing to lump the unavoidable reduced standard of living and the unavoidable increased pressure on the environment that this would entail. I would like to see minor parties motivated by Islam, in the same way that Family First, the Christian Democrats, and the DLP are motivated by Christianity, with the balance of power in the Senate.  

I am guessing, though, that a decade after the Dr Clam policy is introduced, that the minor party that is most associated with vociferous Mr. Southey-style objections to the bipartisan policy will be the most vociferous opponent of the new policy. They will hate the new power stations, dams, and highways that it will require; their affluent voter base will resent the erosion in their standard of living; and a new block of socially-conservative Muslim voters will put the brakes on their progressive agenda.  Maybe not. I hope I live to see them disappoint me, when Anthony A or Anthony A enacts my agenda in a fit of madness.


Unknown said...

I don't have the headspace for a full debate, and in any case I agree with some of your points.

However I see a flaw in the argument about the "fly them here" solution only attracting asylum seekers with money. Asylum seekers coming by boat already (allegedly) pay vast sums of money to people smugglers to get on boats.

Surely plane tickets are no more expensive and in fact surely much less so than the "thousands of dollars" frequently cited by (amongst others) the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister. In which case how does the idea that we will only get unenterprising, cashed-up middle class economic refugees stand up?

Unknown said...

Ugh - that was me.


(None of the options for your comment screening seem to work for me)

Dr Clam said...

Yes, a direct mapping of the 'just let them stay' option adjusted to minimise the chances of death would have to involve matching the people-smugglers' fees for the privilege of being flown here, but I couldn't work that properly into the Socratic dialogue.

/will check comment screening

Marco Parigi said...

I find it hard to believe that we would notice a doubling of our refugee intake every year for 5 years. Or maybe increase by 10000 every year for ever. I think this should happen regardless of other policy.

We could also start a new category of "economic migrant" and let immigrants in based on a high fee to get in. It would generate income for Australia, and numbers could be limited by increasing the price. Some of our immigration already sort of works like this, albeit not in the brazen "we can be people smugglers" way.